Utility maximization versus regret minimization in health choice behavior: Evidence from four datasets

Health Econ. 2021 Nov 17. doi: 10.1002/hec.4455. Online ahead of print.


Choice models in health are almost exclusively based on the neoclassical economic paradigm of utility maximization. Recently developed choice models have captured and shown empirical support for regret minimization as an alternative decision rule. In health economics, recent applications of RRM models indicate that individuals making health-based choices may exhibit regret minimization-type behavior. In this paper, we build on this research using a more flexible model that allows for heterogeneous decision rules, separately from preference heterogeneity, and comparing it to models that assume single decision rules. We use four datasets from diverse settings in which individuals make health choices: tobacco markets, genomic testing, and HIV prevention. We found that, if a one-size-fits-all rule is applied, then utility maximization was preferable to regret minimization for these datasets. However, we also find that individuals apply varying decision rules in similar proportions in these health settings, suggesting that models for heterogeneous decision rules were needed to capture these behaviors in these settings.

Keywords: decision rule; health choices; regret minimization; utility maximization.